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Now Playing: .XXX. TLD Carpetbaggers Give New Meaning to "Drop and Snatch"

What do you get when you combine a former real estate developer, an ex-employee from a scandal-ridden domain bidding business, and an ex-fax machine salesman?

Your first answer probably isn't "internet pornography and child safety consultants."

But that's exactly who's behind creating and curating an adults-only gated trailer park on the Internet: three unlikely startup jocks plan to make a .xxx suffix for pornographic websites, despite the fact that no one on any side of the debate wants one. Last week, their struggling ten-year-old proposal for an .xxx TLD (top level domain, such as .com) not only re-appeared, but arrived looking greenlit for takeoff. As .xxx got a preliminary nod for approval – not for the first time – the controversial TLD once again set off alarms in every sector it affects, bizarrely uniting anti-porn religious organizations with porn magnates, the ACLU, and Internet denizens of all kinds.

That eventually someone, or indeed anyone, would get dollar signs for pupils when they considered what it would mean to have a stake in selling .xxx domains is as much a no-brainer as registering sex.com. Armed with ambition, many salesman set out into the mayhem of staking a claim in porn's online architecture—except, as with the case of sex.com, many set out and few return.

Incredibly, the first time .xxx was proposed to ICANN (sort of the Internet's Ministry of Magic) was by Canadian real estate developer Jason Hendeles in October 2000. Turning from real estate to tech in the late 1990s, Hendeles started ICM Registry and, in what could be Hendeles' first demonstration of understanding porn's always-suspicious business practice of generic company-naming, a company called ATECH, literally short for "A Technology Company." (ATECH was also called NameSystem.com and was one of the early second wave of registrars to apply for ICANN accreditation in 1999. ATECH just lost their ICANN accreditation. Sold a few years ago, ATECH was notified on June 25, 2010, by ICANN that its accreditation will not be renewed due to ATECH's failure to pay its accreditation fees as far back as at least April 2009. ICANN will now have to attempt migration of ATECH's registrations to another registrar.)

But back when Hendeles' domain ventures still had that new car smell, ICM Registry got down on one knee and asked ICANN for the equivalent of mainstream porn's hand in shotgun marriage. The .xxx domain was pitched to the Internet's Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, with ICM saying that .xxx would be the solution for managing adult content and protecting children—along with their other proposal .kids, which was to be a "green" space for children online. These domains weren't going to be cheap: ICM wanted $75 per customer.

The high cost of the domains, Hendeles' ICM explained, would funnel money into a proposed nonprofit called Child Online Protection Organization (COPO). The proposal explained that adult webmasters would strengthen their position as legitimate content producers by opting in and self-regulating, with ICM providing a (to be) self-applied content rating system and good-behavior rules. ICM registry claimed they'd have a Policy Advisory Board with "leadership of the adult content community" to create and promote a Code of Conduct.

Naturally, it was all to be voluntary. It was going to be a win-win for the pros and the antis, the people who wanted porn, and the people who wanted porn to go away.

Predictably, Hendeles did not predict that diverse groups of people who choose to post certain kinds of material online would not want to voluntarily form a community. Nor did he correctly guess that those who do identify as the "porn industry" comprise not only a small subset of online pornography, but that they don't like outsiders in their business. While any entrepreneur can imagine a community that could be well-served by paying him for a community-serving business, the entrepreneur's failings come when he realizes that media hype about a conglomerate "porn industry" does not, in fact, mean the boogeyman exists or that the so-called porn industry can be called up and asked over for tea.

Not only was there no clearly defined sponsored community for .xxx, but the very thing that defined the community in the first place—adult content—also has the little iceberg-sized issue that there is no single, universally accepted definition of adult content. Meanwhile, conservative politicians and family groups cried foul at the notion of creating a space to validate the evils of pornography.

Carving up T&A's virtual real estate was not what it seemed. ICANN rejected Hendeles. And ICANN's then-head-wizard Vint Cerf basically told him to come back when he got a community.

Hendeles tucked his entrepreneurial tail and went back to running the awesome ATECH, putting ICM on the back burner until 2003. That was when Hendeles crossed paths with a Brit who'd found his new spiritual home in sunny Florida, after making a tidy profit selling fax machines across the pond. Stuart Lawley relocated his entreprenurial spirit to the Sunshine State, and in 2002 met an ICANN board member who mentioned in conversation that ICANN was planning a new round of TLD applications. Looking for the long green in any sector, Lawley looked over the list of ICANN rejects from 2000 and didn't have to do much complex math to see which reject was connected to the most money. He wasted no time in tracking down Jason Hendeles. Apparently they were made of the same kind of hustle, so Lawley re-fired up the .xxx engine and took over.

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Violet Blue
July 6th, 2010
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Violet Blue (tinynibbles.com) is a Forbes "Web Celeb," a high-profile tech personality and one of Wired's "Faces of Innovation." She is regarded as the foremost expert in the field of sex and...